It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve cracked open this album of pure eloquence and synthesis. Reason being, I now tend to reach for bassier tunes rather than easy-listening kickbacks. However, it’s apparent this year is the 20th anniversary of Nelly’s debut studio album. So here I am, in front of my computer, jamming out to Country Grammar. I’m about 3 songs in and I forget how great the effortless appeal in this album is, and forever will be.
For lack of better words, Nelly totally nailed this album, trailblazing on a sonic front. It served to position him as one of the world’s biggest hip-hop superstars, climbing the Billboard 200 charts, selling over 10 million copies in America and holding pole position on the R&B charts for six consecutive weeks. Fun fact for us Kiwi’s in New Zealand, the album went platinum almost immediately on our shores. The talented ‘Jay E’ Epperson handled the production, and the full 1 hour and 6 minutes of infectious hooks and subtle Missouri slang was recorded in New York, released to public ears June 6, 2000.
Let’s get stuck into some of the standout tracks on this delicious album, wine tasting being the only sensical analogy for the journey.
Intro – The Methode Traditionnelle (Champagne)
We begin with the hilarious 1 minute 20 album intro featuring comedic godsend, Cedric the Entertainer. The pair make a highly amusing mockery of the standard process they go through to get a hold of each other, featuring pagers, calls, voice messages and intermediary Uncles, the full works. And boy is it a flashback to the 90’s. It actually reminds me of how we’ve been during lockdown. I’ll facetime Bob so Bob remembers Zoom Lou and Caro for the WIP at 10 but Em, can you tag us in the necessary Trello broad with Bruce as a primary follower so he may get the notification to slack Elijah so he knows to ping Lou before 10am on her cell. As a wine, this would no doubt mirror the essence of Champagne, fun and bubbly, with a sharp finish that gets you excited in more ways than one for the rest of the tasting session.
‘St.Louie’ – The Merlot
So satisfyingly smooth. St Louie is just a simple combination of a good beat, rap, and rhyme. The lyrics, however, depict the darker side of Nelly’s hometown and lets us in on the pressing culture of his youth. He essentially describes the spectrum of people you’ll come across in Missouri at the current edge of the century. “You can find me in St. Louie / Where the gun play reigns all day / Some got jobs and some sell yay.”
Southern fruit flavors and aromas are made complex by the backstory interwoven within the tune. Spice and vanilla notes are evidence of prominent oak-aging; but this Merlot and the song alike, shall never fully die.
‘Country Grammar (Hot S)’ – The Riesling
Aromatic, displaying perfumed aromas and high acidity; the Riesling is one you’ll try once and forever go back to. A perfect match for this next Grammy-nominated track. ‘Down down baby’ became one of the most memorable choruses ever and I’d go as far to say that’s how it went down as the theme song of the year 2000. Let’s. Bring. It. Back. I feel a decent sense of sorry for my work colleague’s tomorrow because this is all I’m humming for the office 9-5 and beyond. Nelly relishes in the riches of being a successful rapper, but this flex does not matter in its entirety. The contagion of this song encourages people to come together from all backgrounds, lifestyles and financial tiers, inviting them to do no more but bop their damn head. Do we need any more reason to love music?
‘Greed Hate Envy’ – The Sauvignon Blanc
I remember playing this one in front of my parents on some car ride and I learned my lesson fairly quickly. Not one for the elder generation (big dosage of crudeness) but definitely one that will ooze out your own headphones with incredible finesse. I’d describe this one as herbaceous and piercing, similar to that of the famous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Nelly’s laid-back charm paired with the rough lyrical agenda on this track puckers your lips like the high acidity of our own national grapes. You’ll be greedy for more.
‘E.I’ – The Syrah
It’s southern drawl and influence of urban styles would make it a big-bodied, dry red that tends to shine its brightest on the opening palate. Nelly talks about his raunchy escapades with women (including yours), and he manages to display that he’s the King. Nelly at this point was yet to genuinely become famous, so his boasting and brashness simply kind of says, you’ll know I’ll be the King by the end of this album. This song captures Nelly’s talent with velvety elegance, his swag completely taking over your own rhythmic intuition. I’ll let the video do the talking. Dare you not to move.
‘Ride Wit Me’ – The Pinot Noir
“Oh why do I live this way?
Hey! Must be the money!”
Sensual and delicious my obviously favourite tune of the album reached number three on the Hot 100 charts in a day. It features badboy ‘City Spud’, although we don’t see him in the actual music video as he was caught up serving a jail sentence.. ‘Ride Wit Me’ is one of those jams that you’ll come back to in another 20 years and it won’t have become any less cool. It would be a medium-bodied red wine, fruit-forward, erecting flavours of dark cherries, currants and fresh berries, mixed with distinct notes of spice. This style of Pinot Noir, like the track, has a long, captivating finish that shall transcend well beyond our time.
Country Grammar definitely set the bar high for all other summertime albums to come in the new millennium. I encourage you to crack open the musical nostalgia for it’s 20 year anniversary, you’ll find yourself in a tantalizing spell of enchantment that you’ll enjoy as much as you did back then. Cheers to timeless music.